Most young people these days—myself included—love a good dance party. College towns are weekend hotbeds for swarming, sweaty clubs. Lines wrap around buildings, and cover charges are jacked up but tolerated. Patrons travel in scantily clad packs, prowling the strobe-infused darkness for scantier clad packs. And the grinding on the dance floors, liberally dubbed "dancing," would likely make even the most scandalous late-night participants blush in the sobering light of day.
Such is college club culture. As time marches on, however, weekend schedules begin intermingling these pulsing parties with another kind of social event: the grown-up kind. Your friends and cousins will start getting married. You'll get a job, and your boss will throw a Christmas party. You may even wake up one day to realize you'd rather go to your parents' Independence Day cookout—complete with bluegrass band and open bar—than your roommate's boyfriend's Fourth of July keg kill—complete with battling barrels of Natty Light. And when that day comes, you'll likely find yourself in a compromising situation if there's dancing involved.
I'll set the scene for those of you who haven't yet crossed this all-important threshold onto the civilized dance floor. The lighting is such that you can actually see your partner, and you have just one partner at a time. Bodily contact extends only to clasped hands or arms draped around waists and shoulders. Your partner isn't attempting to kiss you passionately and dance with you at the same time, and the music is low enough for conversation.
Most importantly, bystanders milling around the party's periphery will be able to see you clearly—sorry, no swirling smoke to conceal your identity—and these bystanders will likely include co-workers, parents and grandparents who won't be impressed by your practiced booty dropping skills. That's the bad news.
The good news is we're lucky enough to live in an area that appreciates good, old-fashioned, organized dancing. Close enough to Southern beaches to appreciate a good shag and sufficiently infused with Hispanic culture to value a sexy salsa, the Triangle boasts scores of affordable, welcoming, high-energy dance classes that can teach even the crudest beginners to keep it classy.
As I attempt to provide an adequate "guide to getting down," this admitted amateur recognizes the need to practice what I preach. As such, I am setting out on a personal mission to test the waters and learn the basics; hopefully I'll emerge from this expedition bursting with good advice. And some sweet new dance moves.
West Coast Swing
To start things off, I headed to Loafers Beach Club (3914 Atlantic Ave., 872-5335, www.loafersbeachclub.com) a Raleigh venue offering shag, West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop dance lessons. Having never tried swing dancing before, a friend and I went for the beginners' class. It meets every Monday on a drop-in basis at 7:30 p.m., and the intermediate/advanced class starts around 8:30. At $8 for one class and $10 for both, it's a pretty good deal for some basic instruction.
First things first: Wear good shoes. Not quite sure what we needed, my accomplice and I sported flip-flops (not good) and brought tennis shoes as back-ups (not good either). Our instructors let us sport the sneakers for the beginners' session, but most of our female classmates wore heels with flat bottoms. Men wore comfortable, flat dress shoes. The important thing for both sexes is that shoes should have no traction, since swing dancing requires cross-floor sliding. You'll also want shoes that won't fly off, thus avoiding airborne footwear and possible head injuries.
My friend and I arrived inappropriately garbed from the ankles up as well. I don't know about you, but when I hear "swing dance," I think of girls soaring and flipping through the air and everyone bouncing around like Mexican jumping beans. Based on this preconception and ready for a hardcore workout, we came decked out in full gym attire, complete with ponytails and sports bras.
As it turns out, West Coast Swing at its most elementary level is a relatively relaxed partner dance. Everyone else seemed well aware of this, ready to go in silky tops and swishy skirts. Oops.
Our instructors divided us up—boys over here, girls over there— and taught us the basic "sugar push" step, also known as the "push break." We also learned the under arm pass and the left-side pass before pairing up and trying it out to the music.
It felt like a middle school dance at first: Men and women lingered on opposite sides of the room, making shy eye contact and approaching ever so slowly before introducing themselves. But then it got fun.
The crowd was a mixed bag at Loafers. Ages ranged from early 20s to mid-60s, and singles were as prevalent as couples. There was even a good amount of racial diversity, and there was definitely some style diversity (with my friend and I falling at the more ridiculous end of that particular spectrum).
Despite these differences, everyone was refreshingly friendly and eager for a good time. I'd even describe the experience as "a great way to meet people"—people you might not meet otherwise, but whose company is simply enjoyable.
The advanced crowd rolling in and warming up for the 8:30 class was a bit intimidating, so my friend and I opted to take a rain check on furthering our swing expertise. Taking a few beginners' classes before progressing to the intermediate level is encouraged, anyway.
The air in Red Room (510 Glenwood Ave., 835-1322, www.redroomraleigh.com), thick with the spicy scent of paella, swirls within the dim Glenwood hotspot and pours out its open doors, onto the patio and through the Tucker Street intersection.
It's Thursday night in Raleigh, and the fragrant aroma of Spanish tapas blended with the throbbing pulse of salsa beats is enough to entice any premature weekenders wandering by.
Red Room's irresistible Thursday evenings, or "Latin Nights," offer patrons an hour of free salsa lessons from 9-10 p.m., half-price paella and half-price sangria. Foodies, drinkers and partiers alike will find their fix here, and at no charge for ladies and only $5 for men over 21 (there's a $10 cover for anyone underage), Red Room is an affordable and welcome escape from work week monotony.
As far as the dancing goes, Red Room is a far cry from Loafers. Loafers' honey-blond hardwood floors reflect the glow of neon beer signs, and the dance space is roomy and organized. Red Room, on the other hand, boasts sultry candlelight, a join-if-you-want-to mentality and pitchers of sangria as sweaty with condensation as dancers are with, well, sweat.
In fact, the scene at Red Room is about as far from that at Loafers as San Juan is from Myrtle Beach.
A perspiring instructor stands amidst his pupils, donning a sweat-soaked polo and a headset microphone so he can be heard (barely). Music swells over his voice as he rolls his hips to impossible rhythms, and we—his loyal followers—try to follow suit. Of course, we can't.
We can't, but it doesn't matter; we have fun anyway. Everybody is laughing—dancers, bartenders and onlookers— and the atmosphere is somehow seductive and lighthearted at the same time.
Thursdays at Red Room provide a low-intensity, low-pressure, highly enjoyable change of pace. And, as the cheapest of our dance class test drives (um, free?), Latin Night easily takes home the "most bang for your buck" award. Eso es caliente.
Other dance class opportunities in the Triangle
For more dance events, see the Dance: Participatory section of our Spectator A&E calendar.